Things you need!

This page is going to stay at the “top level” so I can stick the things in it that I recommend you get, look at or know about to optimize your Csound experience.

Time, a lot of patience and acceptance of broken things

I know that’s odd to say, any maybe people more experienced with open source / free software understand this. But as I mention elsewhere, due to the extreme age of Csound and that hundreds of people have worked on it over the decades, you are going to find vestiges of abandoned projects everywhere. A huge amount of Csound works fantastic and you’ll be able to do amazing things with it, but amongst the garden there are huge weedy or barren tracts.

If you don’t have the time or patience to deal with that sort of thing, using Reaktor, Max/MSP and other commercial products will cause you a lot less angst!

A PC with audio output

Well duh. Unfortunately at the moment we’re only dealing with Windows XP. I have nothing against MacOS or Linux, but if in fact if you’re goal is to do this on Linux, you’re probably already way ahead of me technically. According to a poll that was taken in early 2010, it seems the majority of Csound users are using Windows XP.

Csound doesn’t need a particularly fast PC. You can probably make do with a Pentium III, in fact if you really had to. But it does require some kind of audio card or motherboard support. Find some half-way decent headphones or speakers to plug into it. Use Windows Media Player which comes with Windows to make sure you can play a CD or a simple audio file.

The Csound software itself

This is kept at Here’s a link to the downloadable Csound installations. (Note added 2010 Mar – the current version is 5.12, but the differences amongst the 5.x versions is probably not something a beginner has to worry about.)

The size of the package is in the 25 – 30 MB range. For speed and simplicity, I would recommend getting the -f (single precision) version. If you have a powerful PC, you can install the -d (double precision) version. For most beginners (or even intermediate users) running simple pieces, the difference should not be significant.

Michael Gogin’s Csound tutorial

For getting started, you could probably get away with this document and forget the rest of this blog. Here’s a relatively recent link:

It’s a PDF of about 8 MB dated 5 Oct 2007. Note that it is also mainly aimed at Windows users; the install sections for Apple and Linux are not yet written.

The Csound Book (Richard Boulanger, ed.)

This is the first thing you should look for, even while you’re downloading the software and trying to start figuring it out. For a while, some academic book liquidators were selling copies for $25.00. If you buy it from a used bookseller, make sure the two CD-ROMs that were bound in it are still present.

With this book alone you can spend a lifetime exploring and experimenting.

OK, that should be enough to get going. The next steps will be to install the software and see if you can get a noise out of Csound

The “official” Csound web site

…is at . This contains the latest Csound developer news, tutorials, reference, examples, and tons of other essential info. (Note 2008 Jan: this appears to have been greatly reworked and updated, although as far as I can tell the main forums are still at nabble.)

BUT… the forums are at .

Why ask why? You do need to read the forum; it might save you countless hours if you are beating your head against a bug other people have seen.

Now is this me? I wanted to post a question to the forum. So it appeared to accept my post, and I saw it when I went back to nabble.

Except that (apparently) it really didn’t. I got an email explaining that my post was queued for approval, but I needed to sign up for the forum. So I signed up for the forum, but I don’t want tons on messages emailed to me. Part of the message helpfully offered that I could turn that off once I was accepted on the forum. It doesn’t make any sense and is infinitely more complicated and buggy than forums used everywhere else on the net, but that’s the way it is. Keep telling yourself: “it’s all run by unpaid volunteers working as a labor of love.”

Do you need to know computer programming?

This is an issue you need to consider to get the most out of Csound. Whereas with commercial sequencers like Sonar, Logic, Cubase, Live, Pro Tools, etc. you don’t need to know anything about programming to use them effectively, in Csound (and ChucK, which we talk about on another page in this blog) you really need to consider learning the language to get the most out of it.

Fortunately, it’s not that hard, I think. If you’ve never been exposed even to BASIC language programming, shell scripting, website designing, etc., consider getting your toes wet since it can be a lot of fun and very rewarding. Sort of like growing flowers in your own garden rather than buying them from the nursery, or building things from wood in your own shop, etc.

If you can follow the instructions to bake a cake or assemble a bookcase, you can learn programming. There are thousands of web pages and books available to get you started.

Back to Csound: you can actually set up a Csound system to simply be a software synthesizer; where it takes notes from a MIDI keyboard and plays them; no programming is necessary (in fact I hope to be able to show an example of this eventually.)

page order #60 / last edited 3 Mar 2010

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